With spring here, it’s the perfect time to revisit your growth strategy and make sure it fuels your business goals. In the digital age, it may be easier than ever to reach your customers, but it’s also harder than ever to catch their attention and keep it.

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Yet, despite all the buzz around growth hacking, companies still seem to face the same growth challenges. How do you construct your growth machine to become one of the 6% of companies that pass the $10 million mark in 10 years?

Lean T-boned machinery

We know about T-shaped marketers: for your specialization to be truly effective, you need to have a good basis in a wide breadth of fields. Similarly, for your channels to be impactful, you need to ensure your foundation for growth is strong.

Grow Camp 2018, six days of intensive growth programming held at MaRS earlier this year, featured speakers who went broad, then dug deep into channels. The goal of the event was to get its attendees ready for growth by providing them with three levels of knowledge—foundational, marketing and channels—to prevent them from jumping straight into channels.

Throughout the event, the Grow Camp speakers emphasized the need to stop thinking about yourself and hogging the attention. They also iterated the importance of strengthening your foundation and building real relationships—all while staying cool and human.

Naturally, Grow Camp’s gurus are not alone in their thoughts. Recent trends in growth marketing reflect the need for experimentation in areas including the North Star metric, personalization, good timing, human automation, authenticity and turning the focus back to the customer.

Here are seven essentials to being successful as a growth marketer in 2018, pulled from insights gained at Grow Camp 2018.

1. Forget the idea of a single growth hacker

First and foremost, get the idea of having a single growth hacker out of your mind. Growth doesn’t happen in silos. Rather, it comes from a culture of change and experimentation, the result of a collaborative effort between all members of an organization working toward one goal.

When it comes to growth, Sean Ellis, the founder and CEO of GrowthHackers, recommended that a growth team should at the very least consist of:

  • a growth master to manage the growth process;
  • a growth marketer to develop channels;
  • a growth engineer to engineer growth tests;
  • a growth designer to design growth tests; and
  • a data analyst to find growth opportunities.

The culture of growth works when an organization is bound by the same goal: to move its North Star metric. This goal allows you to bridge the gap between teams, including your marketing and sales teams. As Elle Woulfe, the vice-president of marketing at PathFactory, mentioned, marketing and sales should feed into each other continuously.

Similarly, in business-to-business and account-based marketing, as Steve Watt, the founder of Toronto ABM Summit, explained, the role of chief revenue officer can effectively merge sales and marketing departments.

Speaking of teams, remember to look for people with growth mentalities when you’re hiring—that is, people who are willing to fail fast, talk to customers and be agile. You also need to make sure you’re attracting the right type of people by establishing your employee value proposition, making sure the message you’re sending out to talent reflects the type of people you want to employ and demonstrates the value you provide. More on that here.

2. Getting to “It’s just what I always use”

With all of the products out there vying for your customers’ attention, building a brand is key to capturing them and keeping them loyal. What’s just as powerful, explained Hooked author Nir Eyal, is ingraining your product as a necessity in your customers’ lives—that is, making your product a habit. Learn how to hook your customers here.

Creating a habit is critical, as it ensures that your customers will come back to your product. Naturally, this can’t be done without developing key insights into your customers’ wants and needs. For example, when it comes to community-based products, your number 1 priority is to make sure the community becomes more valuable when more people join it—otherwise, why would anyone care about your community?

The same concept applies to going viral, a term that is pretty viral in and of itself. As Bryn Jones, the co-founder of GrowSumo, stated, there’s no process to going viral. Rather, it’s the result of having a strong understanding of your customers’ needs and offering something useful to them. In other words, it’s about having the right product-market fit. That’s the only way you can become a natural part of a customer’s life.

3. Giving individualized attention

The meat of the matter is, of course, personalization. With so much data about customer behaviours and preferences at your disposal, you have unique insights into your customers’ worldviews and can tailor your products accordingly. Not only does this allow you to build stronger relationships with your customers, but it also brings the focus back to the needs of each individual customer. If your customers don’t feel loved, they’ll leave you for someone who cares about them. Remember: it’s about the customer.

Nathan Monk and Aislinn Malszecki, both from MaRS, placed a strong emphasis on customer personas and mapping the buyer journey. Allowing yourself to step into your customers’ shoes will give you insights into what barriers they face and, above all, help you understand what they want.

4. Test, test, 1, 2, 3…

Back to expecting different results when you haven’t changed what you do: the same applies to growth. With improvements in technology, we’re able to gather more data on our customers than ever before (let’s not talk about Facebook). If you don’t conduct tests to improve your data, your customers will leave you for someone who cares more about them—and you know you have competitors just waiting to snatch up your precious customers.

Of course, you can’t improve without knowing where you need improvement. Sean Ellis outlined a three-step process for growth and placed the emphasis on constant iteration to patch up your funnel and finally get it right. Test like a Gryffindor when you begin, then channel your Slytherin tendencies. For the muggles out there, that means you should test big and boldly to start, then in a more calculated manner as you grow.

Kareem Azees from Autodesk emphasized the need to tie your experiments to a key business metric. Especially when it comes to sales, everything should revolve around your customer lifetime value.

“When it boils down to it, your metrics should be understandable, comparative and behaviour changing.” — Kareem Azees, Autodesk

5. Being there just in time

Micro-moments are now macroscopically examined. It’s all about timing and being there when your customers need you. Is your product available to them when they desire a solution most? If you can master meeting this demand, you’ll be well on your way to pleasing your customers.

One small caveat: this only works if your customers know about you. You must have an established brand before these micro-moments can occur. In these situations, it’s not the best product that wins, it’s the product that comes to mind first that does.

So how can you be top of mind? As Marty Neumeier of Liquid Agency pointed out, you must have something unique to offer to your customers. More importantly, those customers have to believe that what you offer is unique.

6. Using automation and artificial intelligence

In an era where efficiency trumps all, make sure you’re not wasting your time by repeatedly doing things you can automate. We now have the ability to make pretty much anything—and I do mean anything—artificially intelligent, so there’s really no excuse not to take advantage of makeshift robots in your workflow.

Even when it comes to content production, established processes can make your life so much easier when you need to produce 20 blogs by next Thursday. Sue Varty, managing partner at Headstart Copywriting, mentioned having a process for quality control, then using voice-recognition software and transcription services to speed up production.

Soon, chatbots will overfill our landing screens. We’ll start spending more time with our metallic counterparts than with our meaty companions. But as with our united hatred toward navigating a monotone phone operator that can’t figure out what we want, robots may not be the answer to everything.

Randy Frisch, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Uberflip, placed the emphasis back on personalization, even with automation. From the moment your customer clicks on a link, every piece of content has to be targeted to that particular customer.

7. Authenticity and being real

Conversational marketing is all the rage. Flowery sales pitches are out, and trust is in. Today audiences are demanding real interactions with companies, brands and influencers. Even Beyoncé knows this.

The popularity of channels such as Instagram Stories and Facebook Live videos, #realtalks from advertisers and influencers on Snapchat, and the rise of #nofilter and models with “real” bodies, show us that, exhausted by all the glitz and glamour, contemporary customers crave authenticity in their relationships with brands.

Ben Winn, manager of customer success at Seamless MD, pointed out the importance of building relationships before forcing CTAs. Not every call is about sales anymore—in fact, if you haven’t built a good relationship with your customers, they will likely distrust you (and run far, far away) should you try to sell. And, as Marty said, people don’t like being sold to.

At the very least, social media has made the job of marketers much simpler. Platforms like LinkedIn, Snapchat and Facebook bring you straight to your customers. Just remember to think of how your customers will be interacting with your content, and go vertical. Get some help from Snapchat here.

So, tell me: at the end of the day, what’s the key to efficient growth?

If you answered automation, you’ve hit the nail on the head—of your coffin. Automation is important, but staying in touch with your customers’ individual needs is what’s critical to success. After all, you exist for—and because of—your customers. So, listen to them. Give them what they want. Be there when they need you. Only after that can your efforts in pushing buttons on your channels drive sales and lead to that magical “G word.”

So I guess the old saying is correct—when it comes to growth, the customer really is always right.

Thank you to our incredible speakers from Grow Camp 2018 for contributing to some of these key insights. Want more on growth marketing? Check out some key learnings from scaling pains, building a good foundation for growth, sales for scale, building good relationships, digital marketing in the modern age and humanizing automation.

Tannya Cai

Tannya is responsible for the planning, execution, marketing and development of experiential programs and workshops within Regional Innovation Centres and Campus Linked Accelerators in the province of Ontario. See more…